Three Kokomo men found guilty of conspiracy in one of the biggest drug rings in Howard County history recently filed motions for judgments of acquittal, or at least new trials, in federal court.
The investigation came to be known as “Operation Law and Order,” and it culminated in around 130 local and federal law enforcement officers conducting several drug raids across the city in 2018, netting around 50 arrests in total.
Three of those arrested in the investigation, Jason Reed, 50, Shaun Myers, 36, and Michael Jones, 37, were convicted last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substances.
It’s a charge that carries a weight of 10 years to life in federal prison and a $10,000,000 fine.
And it’s also that charge — along with a money laundering conviction against Jones — that the three are fighting against in their separate motions.
In those motions, Reed, Myers and Jones all claimed that the prosecution failed to show evidence beyond a reasonable doubt during the three-week long jury trial that any of the men had a conspiratorial connection to the investigation. They noted instead that the three actually just held a “buyer-seller” relationship as it pertained to the drug ring’s leader, Reggie Balentine.
That buyer-seller relationship, the three claimed, is not sufficient enough to indicate that there was a mutual conspiracy between the parties.
Reed’s motion — written up by his attorney Jessie A. Cook — claims that for a conspiracy to take place between two parties, the court must find that that conspiracy exists and that the defendant knowingly becomes a member.
In Reed’s case, Cook wrote, Reed conceded that there was a conspiracy, but he denied taking part in it.
“A buyer-seller agreement can’t by itself be the basis of a conspiracy conviction because there is no common purpose,” Cook wrote. “The buyer’s purpose is to buy. The seller’s purpose is to sell. … Therefore, a criminal conspiracy must involve an agreement beyond the mere buying and selling of drugs.”
Cook also noted that Reed had a limited relationship with any of the main players in the drug investigation, including Balentine or Georgia drug distributor Pierre Riley.
Balentine and Myers did communicate via telephone several times, Cook stated, but that was mostly about a single methamphetamine deal on Feb. 24, 2018 involving a Terre Haute resident at an Indianapolis-area Bob Evans restaurant.
During that transaction, the prosecution argued during the trial that Reed helped set up a drug transaction between Balentine and the Terra Haute man and that was because there was a conspiratorial relationship between the two.
Cook disagreed, stating that the incident was a one-time situation.
“Although the evidence established that Reed participated in the Feb. 24th transaction wherein methamphetamine was sold to the Terra Haute man, it also established that he did so for his own personal gain and not to advance the goals of Balentine’s organization,” Cook wrote in the motion.
According to Myers’ attorney Kenneth Riggins, Myers was merely associated with the individuals directly involved in the drug investigation, and he should therefore not be charged as a co-conspirator.
Like Cook, Riggins claimed that Myers’ relationship with Balentine was strictly a buyer-seller situation, and that is not enough to convict his client beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Numerous transcripts [secured through intercepted phone conversations] were offered by the government into evidence as to Shaun Myers that contained conversations which occurred between Feb. 22, 2018 and May 2, 2018,” Riggins wrote in the motion. “In the aforementioned transcripts, defendant Myers is heard speaking primarily with co-defendant Balentine less than 50 times out of 10,000 telephone calls.”
Riggins continued to write that at no point in those phone calls did Myers ever converse with any of the other defendants that were tried alongside him, and there was also no evidence that linked Myers to anyone else involved in the conspiracy.
“What is abundantly clear is that at no point in time did Myers and Balentine enhance each other’s operation,” Riggins stated. “Two separate operations, no collaboration, other than a simple buy/sell relationship. Balentine did not receive a commission on sales made by Myers, and there was no attempt to share customers or look out for new customers for each other.”
Charles Hayes, Jones’ attorney, was very direct in his motion for judgement of acquittal.
“The evidence presented at trial is insufficient to convict Jones as a member in the charged conspiracy,” Hayes wrote in the motion.
Again, as did also occur in Reed and Myers’ requests, Hayes said Jones’ relationship with Balentine was nothing more than a buyer-seller relationship and that the two did not work together to purchase and distribute narcotics.
Hayes also brought up the “collegial” relationship between Jones and Balentine, as testified to by Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Erik Collins.
During the trial, Collins told the court that Jones and Balentine would often gamble together at Balentine’s residence and that there appeared to be a working relationship between the two men.
Hayes disagreed with that line of thought, stating in the motion for judgement of acquittal that the two were just friendly with each other.
“There was no evidence presented at trial that Balentine and Jones had any agreement to look for other customers,” Hayes said. “There was no evidence presented at trial that Jones was paid any type of commission on his drug sales. Finally, there was minimal evidence that either Jones or Balentine ever advised each other on the conduct of each other’s businesses.”
Sentencing dates for Reed, Myers and Jones have not yet been set.